What's in a Name? With Weight Loss Programs, Not Much

An analysis of data from 48 trials found little difference in total weight loss between several diet programs.

An analysis of data from 48 trials found little difference in total weight loss between several diet programs.

The differences in weight loss achieved through various popular named diets were minimal, the results of a study published in the September 3, 2014 edition of JAMA suggest.

As a result, patients looking to slim down may have more success if they focus on a weight loss approach they will adhere to rather than a trademarked diet or popular strategy, researchers state. The researchers found significant weight loss in any low-fat or low-carbohydrate diet.

“Our findings should be reassuring to clinicians and the public that there is no need for a one-size-fits-all approach to dieting, because many different diets appear to offer considerable weight loss benefits,” the authors wrote. “This is important because many patients have difficulties adhering to strict diets that may be particularly associated with cravings or be culturally challenging (such as low-carbohydrate diets).

“Our findings suggest that patients may choose, among those associated with the largest weight loss, the diet that gives them the least challenges with adherence,” they added.

The study involved a meta-analysis of 48 trials involving 7286 participants. The trials included overweight or obese adults who were randomly assigned popular self-administered diets, and reported weight or body mass index outcomes at 3-month follow up or longer.

Researchers found the largest difference in weight at both the 6-month and the 12-month marks in participants on low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets. Despite this, differences between individual diets were minimal, and only amounted to a few pounds, researchers found.

“Although statistical differences existed among several of the diets, the differences were small and unlikely to be important to those seeking weight loss,” the authors wrote.

An editorial accompanying the study noted the overreaching importance of behavior modification when losing weight, while also focusing on nutrient quality.

“Overall, the findings from the study by Johnston et al, along with other recent data, underscore the importance of effective diet and lifestyle interventions that promote behavioral changes to support adherence to a calorie-restricted, nutrient-dense diet that ultimately accomplishes weight loss,” Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, wrote. “Choosing the best diet suited to an individual’s food preferences may help foster adherence, but beyond weight loss, diet quality, including micronutrient composition may further benefit longevity.”